Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro offered dialogue to the increasingly vigorous opposition Wednesday while warning the American people that intervening in his country could create new Vietnam-style quagmire.
The dialogue offer, which has been made before, was immediately praised by Russian and drew a tweet from President Donald Trump, who said it came after increased U.S. pressure on the Venezuelan government and economy.
“I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk about what benefits Venezuela,” Maduro said in an interview with Russian state media. He added that letters have been sent to the governments of Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Russia, the Vatican and other European states to involve them in the process.
At the same, he issued a video message directed at the American people, warning them that the Trump administration was trying to carry out a coup d’etat in Venezuela that he said would be disastrous.
“We will not allow a Vietnam in Latin America,” he said. “They want to put their hands on our oil like they did in Iraq, like they did in Libya,” Maduro added, referring to the United States.
“I ask for the support of people of the United States so that there is not a new Vietnam,” Maduro said in the video posted on Facebook.
Russia, which has been Maduro’s most vocal international supporter, praised his willingness to negotiate with the U.S.-backed opposition, the Kremlin said Wednesday. “The fact that President Maduro is open to dialogue with the opposition deserves high praise and is commendable,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a phone call.
In an early morning tweet soon afterward, Trump seemed to suggest that Maduro’s offer for dialogue was prompted by “U.S. sanctions and the cutting off of oil revenue.” He said a “massive protest” is expected Wednesday and warned Americans against traveling to Venezuela “until further notice.”
Despite the offer for dialogue, authorities ratcheted up pressure on the opposition with a request by the chief prosecutor to freeze opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s assets. The request was later ratified by the loyalist Supreme Court as a preventive measure pending a full investigation. The move stopped short of a detention order – something the Trump administration has strongly warned against.
“We request these preventive measures against Guaidó while we compile elements to stop the events that since January 22 have broken the peace of the republic,” the prosecutor, Tarek Saab, said at a news conference.
Speaking at the opposition-led National Assembly, which he heads, Guaidó responded to the move by dismissing it as “nothing new under the sun.” He said it came from “a regime that doesn’t give answers to Venezuelans” and whose “only answer is persecution and repression.” Guaidó added: “The world is clear on what’s happening in Venezuela . . . Let’s not desist because of threats and persecution.”
The United States, which backs Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, pushed back hard against the chief prosecutor’s effort. “We denounce the illegitimate former Venezuelan Attorney General’s threats against President Juan Guaidó,” White House national security adviser John Bolton wrote on Twitter. “Let me reiterate-there will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido.”
The chief prosecutor’s request came after the United States escalated its efforts to unseat the leftist Maduro on Monday by punishing the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), in an effort to transfer its control to the opposition. The U.S. move freezes $7 billion in U.S.-based assets and blocks more than $11 billion in revenue that Venezuela would get from oil sales next year through its U.S.-based company Citgo, which owns three refineries in the United States and employs thousands of workers.
In his interview Wednesday with Russian media, Maduro said the decision violated international law and called it one of Bolton’s “most insane” decisions.
“It is an unlawful decision in a bid to expropriate a Venezuelan asset, a Venezuelan company,” he said. “I am confident that we will emerge victorious, protecting the company Citgo as the property of the Venezuelan people.”
The Treasury Department said money would go to a fund that a transitional government headed by Guaidó could eventually access.
Revenue from oil sales to the United States and from Citgo, which imports Venezuela’s heavy crude oil, refines it and distributes gasoline throughout the United States, is one of the Maduro administration’s main sources of income. These sanctions, experts say, constitute the biggest setbackthat the populist Maduro has ever confronted.
Venezuela’s government is responsible for more than half the country’s imports of food and medicine. The country also depends on imports of raw materials to manufacture and distribute basic goods.
The sanctions come during a tense week in Venezuela. Overnight protests are surging and are being met with harsh repression. At least 35 people have been killed and more than 800 detained in a week. More protest marches are scheduled this week.
Many Venezuelans are desperate for change as they confront crippling hyperinflation and scarcity of vital medicines, but many worry that U.S. sanctions could make the dramatic situation even worse in the short term.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Andreina Aponte, Rachelle Krygier, Anthony Faiola ·